(Homily for 23rd Sunday of the Year A)
Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20
(These thoughts were proposed and found useful by some who listened on 7th September 2008)Today we have a Eucharistic celebration that is not going to allow us to return home untouched. The gospel has an important message for all of us on reconciliation. And this reconciliation will be made possible by CARE-FRONTATION = a word coined to describe an interaction in which there is a confrontation that arises from care. Let us spend some time unpacking this idea.
We live in a world which prides itself on individualism. You do your thing and I'll do mine....and you bloody well better not interfere with my thing. So we tolerate and leave things unsaid often leaving situations to get worse.
But Jesus is challenging us to take responsibility not only for our own lives but also for the lives of others. As Ezekiel reminds the people in the first reading - we are called to be sentries and watchmen. We cannot afford to sleep on our watch since we can place the entire community in danger.
A story is told of a young girl with polio who had to undergo extensive physiotherapy that often left her in excruciating pain. So she protests one day to her dad. "Dad don't you love me just the way I am - unconditionally?" And her dad replies: "Darling I love you - I love you too much to allow you to remain the way you are!" Now that is true unconditional love. To love the other into being a better person. At the root of our challenging others who err is LOVE. We do not correct to prove a point or to gloat over a person who is inferior to us. We reach out in love to someone we care about. St. Paul reiterates this in the second reading when he tells us that the summary of the law is love. When we truly love then our care-frontation becomes possible.
The gospel of today helps define this process of Care-frontation. It lays down steps for the journey and we will just highlight three of them.
1. True care-frontation begins as an encounter in love between two persons. When I see my brother or sister stray I am not called to publicise their failing or mistake. I need to go to them in a loving encounter - in private and bring to their attention the change that may be necessary for them to become better and more loving persons. The goal is to make them better - the motivation is love. So there is no room for blame and accusation. How often we lower the dignity of the other person by bringing their faults to light in public before people who respect them and thus belittling them. Needless to say this has the opposite effect of hardening positions and closing people from change and adaptability to rigidness and stubborness.
2. This care-frontation precludes gossip, rumour mongering and back biting. I have no right to tell others and to spread tales that I have not had the courage in the first place to share with the person concerned. How much harm we do when we do spread this evil spirit born often from half-truths that are presented as absolutely incontrovertible proof. We would do well to recall an incident from the life of Philip Neri. A woman once went to him for confession, accusing herself of badmouthing people. The saint absolved her but gave her a strange penance. He told her to go home, get a hen and come back, plucking the bird’s feathers as she walked along the street. When she had returned to him he said: “Now go back home and, as you go, pick up each feather that you plucked on the way.” The woman told him that it would be impossible since the wind had almost certainly blown them away in the meantime. But St. Philip was prepared: “You see,” he said, “just as it is impossible to pick up the feathers once the wind has scattered them, it is likewise impossible to gather gossip and calumnies back up once they have come out of our mouth.”
3. If a simple dialogue in private has not yielded fruit or brought about the desired change then we need to get the help of others to solve the problem. We need to get those who have some abililty to help and mediate and bring about reconciliation. But our brother or sister is always due respect and the intervention is once again always to be moved by LOVE. This makes the third key issue in Care-frontation.
So as we go into a new week let us ask the Lord for this ability to CARE-FRONT others. Care-frontation is moved by love and seeks the good of the other. It moves from personal private dialogue in which we point out to the other the error of his or her ways. It avoids all gossip and slander. When dialogue fails it seeks to bring about change and reconciliation by recourse to significant people who can help make things better. Let us go out to enjoy a week of CARE-FRONTING others.